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Friday, 23 May 2008 08:17

EU 'œnotes' Microsoft's decision to support ODF in Office 2007

Microsoft is planning on releasing SP2 in 2009, with support to save documents in ODF format as standard, in the name of ‘interoperability’, while adding PDF and XPS save/export compatibility without requiring any add-on software. The EU’s Commission has ‘taken note’ and welcomed the decision, while promising to investigate it further. What does this mean?

The European Commission is set to investigate whether Microsoft’s intention to support ODF in Office 2007’s upcoming SP2 (service pack 2) next year will truly “lead to better interoperability” or not, following Microsoft’s announcement on Wednesday.

The ODF (Open Document Format) is an attempt by Microsoft’s competitors, including IBM and Sun, to create an open document storage format that prevents individuals, companies and governments from being locked into Microsoft formats and thus forever buying Microsoft software.

The quality of Microsoft’s ODF compatibility will become a key question to as whether or not the EU will choose to impose new fines on Microsoft for flouting its interoperability  rulings, something Microsoft has already been fined billions of dollars for in the past.

Microsoft recently won the right to have its OOXML ‘open document’ format become a recognised ISO standard, much to the chagrin of Microsoft’s competitors, many of whom say Microsoft’s claims to be open are but pure trickery which will never lead to Microsoft truly opening itself up to anyone.

Still, when massive organisations like the EU can impose multi-billion dollar fines, this kind of legal pressure is hard to resist, with Microsoft effectively saying it is now, er… “voluntarily” complying and really, really wants to be open… er… now.

It is no surprise that the EU Commission is skeptical, with their specific short and sweet statement headlined as “Antitrust: Commission takes note of Microsoft's announcement on supporting ODF in Office”, with the statement itself saying: “The European Commission has taken note of Microsoft's announcement on 21st May concerning supporting ODF in Office. The Commission would welcome any step that Microsoft took towards genuine interoperability, more consumer choice and less vendor lock-in.”

The statement continues: “In its ongoing antitrust investigation concerning interoperability with Microsoft Office (see MEMO/08/19), the Commission will investigate whether the announced support of ODF (OpenDocument format) in Office leads to better interoperability and allows consumers to process and exchange their documents with the software product of their choice.”

So, what does Microsoft’s recent statement say? Please read on to page 2.

Last Wednesday, the 21st of May 2008, Microsoft said that it was now going to offer “customers greater choice and more flexibility among document formats, as well as creating additional opportunities for developer and competitors, by expanding the range of document formats supported in its flagship Office productivity suite.”

Microsoft noted its support for 20 different document formats in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and promised that SP2 for Office 2008 would “grow to include support for XML Paper Specification (XPS), Portable Document Format (PDF) 1.5, PDF/A and Open Document Format (ODF) v1.1.”

Specifically, Microsoft says that: “when using SP2, customers will be able to open, edit and save documents using ODF and save documents into the XPS and PDF fixed formats from directly within the application without having to install any other code. It will also allow customers to set ODF as the default file format for Office 2007. To also provide ODF support for users of earlier versions of Microsoft Office (Office XP and Office 2003), Microsoft will continue to collaborate with the open source community in the ongoing development of the Open XML-ODF translator project on”

Microsoft also promises to fully support its own new OOXML format now standardised by the ISO in “the next major version” of Office, codenamed Office 14.

Microsoft also touts its “interoperability principles” and says the “company [is] committed to work with others toward robust, consistent and interoperable implementations across a broad range of widely deployed products, the company has also announced it will be an active participant in the future evolution of ODF, Open XML, XPS and PDF standards.”

Well, we’re simply going to have to wait and see just how committed Microsoft truly is to its new caring, sharing and interoperable attitude (against lawsuits?) and working with others.

No doubt there will be more squabbles, more fights by Microsoft’s competitors to claim they won’t be as interoperable as they claim, and much scrutiny of Office 2007 SP2 when it arrives.

Otherwise all the ODF and OOXML fights will lead to … uh-oh… more billion dollar fines! And even Microsoft with its billions of dollars doesn’t want to waste that money even if it can afford to.

“Putting customers first” as Microsoft claims it now wants to do is very noble – and is the right thing for consumers who just want their computers to work and their data to be accessible when they need it.

It’s a shame we all need to keep an eye on Microsoft to make sure they do it. But if there’s no other way, then hey, finally, governments and their commissions are good for something after all.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.



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